David Kurtz

David Kurtz is Managing Editor and Washington Bureau Chief of Talking Points Memo where he oversees the news operations of TPM and its sister sites.

Articles by David

I am still not sure there is much clarity regarding Israel's reported agreement to delay its air attack in southern Lebanon:

Israeli officials said nothing publicly about the suspension early Monday, and Mr. Ereli noted that Israel reserved the right to strike at militants preparing attacks against it.

An Israeli official in the prime minister’s office, who did not want to be identified, simply confirmed the State Department statement, saying, “Israel will be suspending aerial activity over southern Lebanon for 48 hours until the end of the Israeli investigation into Qana.”

As I mentioned in the post below, a report in Haaretz stated that the bombing would only be stopped in the Beirut area, a request the U.S. had made several days ago.

This is an important distinction for several reasons. First, for the Qana incident to occur while Rice was in Jerusalem ostensibly for peace talks is deeply embarrassing. Second, it prevented her from shuttling to Lebanon for further talks and made it likely that she would return to Washington with nothing to show for her efforts, another embarrassment. Third, if the Israelis only agreed to do something that the U.S. had already been urging for days, then neither the Israelis nor the Americans actually conceded anything in response to Qana, which has political implications not just in the region but in Europe as well.

It was certainly odd for the announcement of a major change in the conduct of Israeli military operations to be publicly announced by the U.S., rather than by Israel. It certainly gives the appearance that the Israelis allowed the Americans to make the announcement so that Condi could depart with at least a fig leaf of accomplishment. The question now is did they give her even a fig leaf?

Israel has agreed to some sort of cessation of hostilities, on a very limited basis, but it's not clear to me exactly what Israel agreed to do or not do.

From the NYT (emphasis added):

Late Sunday, Israel agreed to suspend its airstrikes for 48 hours while it investigates the bombing of Qana, a State Department spokesman said. The spokesman, Adam Ereli, told reporters in Jerusalem that Israel would coordinate with the United Nations to provide a 24-hour period during which residents of southern Lebanon could leave area safely.

From Haaretz (emphasis added):

Even though the prime minister announced that Israel will continue its attacks against Hezbollah, even after the sad incident at Qana, and will not accept the demand for an immediate, unconditional cease-fire - he did accede to the American request to limit air-force operations in the area of Beirut. This will be done on condition that Hezbollah will not expand its attacks against other towns in Israel, as its leader, Nasrallah, has recently threatened. . . .

The American request regarding the air force's activities in Beirut was actually made several days ago. Israel was told that this recommendation came from President Bush. Indeed, aerial operations over the Lebanese capital have slowed substantially, with no connection to the unfortunate events at Qana.

Israel was warned that in spite the fact that it is known that in a particular quarter in Beirut (Dahiya in the south), there are tunnels, and that in the main underground command center of Hezbollah, its leaders are hiding - the fact that the city is now full of refugees should be taken into account. A single mistake in a bombing raid would be enough to injure a multitude of civilians.

After what happened in Qana it is logical that the slowdown in air-force action in the skies over Beirut will continue, except if Hezbollah tries to attack other Israeli cities with long-range missiles.

So which is it? Has Israel ceased air operations throughout Lebanon or just in the Beirut area? Could the answer have something to do with the fact that a State Department official traveling with Rice announced the 48-hour delay? What has the Israeli government said?

Update: According to the Jerusalem Post, "The Prime Minister's Office confirmed the report." Well, confirming news reports of what an American official publicly said about what Israel privately agreed to is not the same thing as Israel publicly saying what it agreed to. So the jury is still out . . .

Late Update: Something's up. I had missed this earlier, but the Washington Post reported, "There was no announcement from the Israeli government about the suspension." Later Update: CNN reporting that an Israeli official confirms that Israel has agreed to a 48-hour stop to bombing in southern Lebanon.

I question how anyone who has been loyal to this President for the last 6 years, as Condi Rice has been, can be considered a moderate. But if there is a remnant faction of moderates in the Administration, they probably are hiding somewhere in Foggy Bottom, and this assessment from Shmuel Rosner is probably correct that the current Lebanese-Israeli situation may be those moderates' last stand:

For more than a year now Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been working on her image around the world. A year's worth of effort, and some worthy achievements, and then in two weeks of crisis everything is ruined.

The Europeans, the ambassadors the United Nations, the leaders of Arab states, all those who saw in Rice a stabilizing factor, calculated and reasonable in the Bush administration, are reevaluating their stance toward her. For Rice, this is a personal blow, and also a professional obstacle. Her prestige is an important tool of the trade, and with its absence she will find it difficult to mark successes in the future.

Rice will return to Washington on Monday, frustrated and bruised from two weeks of an exhausting trek that has come to an end on a bitter note. She will sit in meetings with her team in order to think about the crisis anew. Her first mission will be to ensure that the State Department and the White House are broadcasting on the same wavelength.

For the first time during the talks between the Americans and their Israeli counterparts, there is some tension. Israel is not delivering the goods: a quick and convincing victory over Hezbollah, and in its actions Israel is making it more difficult for the Americans to block the international tide in favor of a cease-fire. As such, in different parts of the Bush administration there is a growing realization that the time is approaching when it will be necessary to "cut and bolt with whatever is at hand," as one Washington source said Sunday. Perhaps this will be sooner than Israel expects.

Still, the White House is not the State Department. It is less sensitive to the cries from Europe and a lot more attuned to the domestic political scene, where Israel has the advantage for the time being.

In other words, the real power in the Administration flows not through Foggy Bottom but through the Pentagon and the Office of the Vice President. You would think that Condi would have figured that out by now.

Karl Rove, media critic, political scientist, and staunch democrat (small "d"):

Some decry the professional role of politics. They would like to see it disappear. Some argue political professionals are ruining American politics--trapping candidates in daily competition for the news cycle instead of long-term strategic thinking in the best interest of the country.

It's odd to me that most of these critics are journalists and columnists. Perhaps they don't like sharing the field of play. Perhaps they want to draw attention away from the corrosive role their coverage has played focusing attention on process and not substance.

It's not necessary to parse the substance of Rove's fatuous comments. We all know how preposterous any of this is coming from Rove. And it's certainly not the first time the GOP has attacked the media as a way of working the refs, which is exactly the purpose of those particular remarks.

But I am struck by Rove's remarks as another example, among many in recent months, that most of the reliable campaign themes the Republicans have employed in the last two decades are no longer viable. National security policy is in a shambles, the federal budget is a wreck, and the GOP's reputation for bringing mature and competent managers to government may take a generation to rebuild. Thematically, only social issues still resonate. That leaves the GOP with two main tactical weapons: demonizing opponents personally and shooting the messenger.

Over the next four months, we will see blistering negative attacks on Democrats of a ferocity and corrosiveness that will make Swift Boats look like the Love Boat. And we will see a continuation of what started in the spring, an unprecedented attack on journalists and journalism, using not only the rhetorical flourishes favored by Rove, but the powers of the state via investigations, subpoenas, and the invocation of state secrets.

The Republicans have amassed great power, arguably more power than any party since the Democrats under Roosevelt. But unlike the Roosevelt years, power today is much more centralized, in politics, in business, and in journalism. It is a concentration of power that is, and I hate to risk going overboard here, dangerous to democracy.

The vigor with which the GOP has attacked journalism in recent months is a reliable indicator of what conservatives see as the greatest threat to their power (and if journalism is the greatest threat, that's a sure sign that other democratic institutions have withered). The Administration has attacked then investigated journalists for disclosing illegal government activities, some authorized by the President. It has suggested that journalists play into the hands of terrorists by reporting on the strife in Iraq. And 24 hours a day, conservatives' Fox News makes a mockery of journalism.

You can disagree about what reality should be. That is the essence of democracy. But when the instruments of state power, including the President's bully pulpit, are used to attack the effort--within government, but especially without--to identify, describe, and analyze what reality is, then we have run right up against the limits of what democracy can withstand. It is the abandonment of the Enlightenment in favor of a dark and uncertain future.

A number of readers, in response to Josh's Mel Gibson post, have emailed to point out that the substance of Gibson's anti-Semitic remarks, as first reported by the website TMZ.com, have since been confirmed. This is true. According to the LA Times, "A source close to the investigation confirmed Saturday that the pages posted by the website were authentic."

Israel agrees to 48-hour cessation of the aerial bombardment of Lebanon to investigate today's bombing and to coordinate with the UN a 24-hour window for civilians to escape southern Lebanon safely.

Have Israel and the United States pushed the Lebanese government past the point of no return?

Lebanese Prime Minister Fuoad Siniora expressed his 'gratitude' to Hizbullah and its leader Hassan Nasrallah for "sacrificing their lives for the country."

During a press conference held in wake of the Qana village incident in which 55 Lebanese were killed, Siniora asked: "Is Israel's mission to wipe out the Lebanese? It seems they want to kill all of us. One of those killed today is a baby just one day old. With its aggression, Israel is encouraging extremism."

"Israel won't obtain a thing through the war," he added. "Does it believe that through war it will obtain goals? They won't obtain a thing, and the opposite is the truth. The entire Lebanese nation is united against the Israeli aggression," Siniora said.

As we mentioned earlier today, the New York Times has thrown its support to Ned Lamont in an editorial appearing in Sunday's paper. The editorial board, which has long favored Joe Lieberman, pulled no punches as it withdrew its support, calling Lieberman's well-known accommodations of the Bush Administration a "warped version of bipartisanship."

If Mr. Lieberman had once stood up and taken the lead in saying that there were some places a president had no right to take his country even during a time of war, neither he nor this page would be where we are today. But by suggesting that there is no principled space for that kind of opposition, he has forfeited his role as a conscience of his party, and has forfeited our support.

The significance of newspaper editorials is vastly overrated. But in withdrawing its longtime support of Lieberman and backing Lamont, a virtual unknown until just a few weeks ago, The Times has given Lamont all of the boost that an editorial can deliver. It validates a challenge that until very recently many observers considered more notable for Lamont's national support from liberal blogs than for the possibility that the incumbent might actually be unseated in his own party's primary. There must be at least a few people close to Lieberman who are wondering tonight whether he ought to step aside in favor of Lamont, rather than end his political career with a humiliating defeat.

Mission accomplished?

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah declared victory on Saturday after Israel announced it was withdrawing its forces from the southern Lebanese town of Bint Jbail where Israeli troops found unexpected difficulty in dislodging the guerrilla group from its strongholds.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev defended the decision to pull troops from Bint Jbeil, saying Israel had never intended to occupy the town, but Nasrallah's quick declaration of victory underscored the propaganda gains Hezbollah is reaping across the Muslim world as it battles Israel to a stalemate.

The last time I recall the U.S. seeming this ineffectual was following Jimmy Carter's failed attempt to rescue the American hostages in Tehran in 1980.